It's a ladies matter

It's a ladies matter

Now, the whole neighbour­hood knew whenever I was menstruating.

(File Photo)

We never shy away from talking about our neighbours’ private lives. Neither do we hesitate in offering advice to complete strangers on the street. But when it comes to discussing women and menstruation, we clam up. We pussyfoot around the subject, use code words and never bring it up as a topic for polite conversation. It makes no difference whether men are around us or not. Like my uncle remarked when someone asked him why his wife was resting in the bedroom while he was entertaining the house guests, “It’s a ladies matter!”

I still remember the pinched feeling in my heart the day my aunt asked me in a hushed tone, “Is it your time?” I was a gawky teen then coming to grips with the changes in my body. It was sheer bad luck that my aunt’s visit coincided with the three days of my monthly cycle. Later, I heard her bandying words like “period” or “out of doors” as she chatted with the other women in the house.

The vernacular references were even more bizarre. It certainly didn’t help when I learnt that Pliny the Elder, Roman naval commander and naturalist from the 1st century CE, referred to menstruation being why “new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off.”

In my teens, whenever the sanitary napkins made an appearance on my bedside table, it led to a series of predictable events over the next few days. I didn’t join the family at the dining table. My mother would leave the detergent bar in the bathroom (so I could wash my clothes) and my father wouldn’t ask me to do the odd chores around the house. My grandmother would sneakily look me up in my room at periodic intervals. I didn’t know if she wanted to double-check that I wasn’t flouting the rules in some way. The first time I protested, she retorted, “It was the cowshed for me in those days!”

When I got married, little did I imagine that I’d had it easy till then. My in-laws operated at a whole new level. Not just visitors, but now the whole neighbourhood knew whenever I was menstruating. I had to sit on the floor of the dining room and have my meals. Hunger and anger sat perched, side by side, like unwelcome guests looking over my shoulder.

Recently, when I visited a friend’s son who had just got married, I noticed that the new bride was looking wan. When she whispered the reason, I wondered how the whole menstruation thing would play out. It was a joint family setup and I knew the matriarch was a stickler for rules. Yet when it was time for dinner, the octogenarian insisted that the bride serve the food at the dining table. That meal remained etched in my memory for a long time. We had certainly come a long way from the cowshed.